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Medieval Facts & Myths: Was Prince John really wicked?

Most of us know Prince John as the iconic bad guy from the Robin Hood legend. But was John really a wicked tyrant in real life?

There are actually two myths about John Lackland, the youngest son of King Henry II and brother to the famous King Richard I, AKA the Lionheart.

The first myth, originating from the Robin Hood legend, portrays John as a conniving prince who oppresses England’s loyal subjects while his noble brother King Richard is away on a crusade.

The second myth, a more recent invention, is the total repudiation of the first. In this telling, John is a decent, able king and a hard-working administrator.

According to a majority of scholars, the truth lies somewhere between these two myths.

John’s reign created the foundation of England's naval power. But John’s onerous taxes sparked an uprising of nobles and bishops that led to the signing of the Magna Carta, England’s first “bill of rights.” John has been described by historians as petty, spiteful and cruel. Yet, they also note that John’s personal faults were not much different than most medieval monarchs.

In truth, instead of a legendary villain, John Lackland was mostly a typical ruler of his era.


Medieval Facts & Myths is a blog series featuring KING ROBIN, a novel by R. A. Moss releasing February 2021 from Beck and Branch Publishers.

Cinematic rights available.

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